Thursday, August 04, 2011

Of course, some days I just want to say "the hell with it" and go to Courier

Over at the NYRB blog, Edward Mendelson (him) has a piece up on the ideological deficiencies of the Helvetica font, and plugs two of his favorites, Sabon (serif) and Optima (sans).

As someone who makes his living by "pleading" with people to read what I write, I spend some time pondering fonts. Two problems hinder me. First, I don't want the font to look so different from the ubiquitous Times New Roman that the reader's immediate thought is "what weird font is this in?" Second, although the federal appellate courts have gone over to measuring length by # of characters, the district courts and the Miss. courts still count pages. So even if a wider-spaced font is easier to read, I can't use it if it lengthens my page count too much.

Here of late I've been using CG Times, which is a bit more attractive than TNR while looking similar enough not to raise eyebrows, uses a tad more space but not much, and has the additional appeal of already being on my computer (i.e., I don't have to buy it for $75+).

(The legendary Edward Tufte is a big fan of Gill Sans and Bembo. Gill Sans, it must be said, is very readable, but doesn't pass the "what is THAT?" test.)


  1. Garner and Scalia say you should use Century. I think the Bembo looks fine, but the Gill Sans surely doesn't pass the "Whutzat" test. Serifs are used for a reason, in that they make type more readable. San Serifs, IMO, should be used for headlines, cutlines and the like but not for body type.

    With that said, where space is a factor I suppose you use whatever will fit it into your page limit. I tend to agree that there should be a word limit, not a page limit, to discourage the use of narrow fonts and the excessive use of lots of single-spaced cites.

  2. Century Schoolbook is a fine font, but as you note, space is a problem. (On Century, the semicolon kinda hangs in the air for some reason.)

    Now that the Miss. Supreme Court for instance is making everyone file an electronic copy of each brief, checking word count should be a cinch. They just haven't done it yet.